A misconception that is spread around in many a Non-dual fora is that whether I know It or not, I am always perceiving God (or brahman). In order to corroborate this belief an easy analogy is given – whether we are aware or not we see only the screen when we watch a movie. As though watching the screen and watching the movie are the same! 🙂
While explaining a verse from the Gita, the fallacy of the above concept was brought out clearly with a forceful illustration by a Swami Ji. (The Commentary of the Swami in three volumes is yet to be published and hence, the details are embargoed for now). The verse says,
समं सर्वेषु भूतेषु तिष्ठन्तं परमेश्वरम् ।
विनश्यत्स्वविनश्यन्तं यः पश्यति स पश्यति ॥ — verse 27, Ch 13, Bhagavad-Gita
Meaning (Not word to word): The Supreme Self, the brahman to be known, is present in the same manner in all beings – from microbes to the Creator Brahma, transcending their body, organs and senses. Whereas the body, organs, mind etc. of the creatures undergo various changes over time, He Himself is not subject to any alteration. He is in control of all of them (therefore only, He is the Lord of All – परमेश्वर (parameshwara). Whosoever is able to “see” the Supreme Self in that way, only that one is the true seer. Such a seeing only is the “real” seeing.
The Interlocutor (raising a question): It is amply clear from the verse that the bodies of the creatures are vulnerable to change but brahman Itself does not. That shows the difference between the created objects and various creatures on one hand and brahman on the other. The bodies are the effects of creation. Therefore, they are illusory. In other words, they are like the silver in the nacre. I have a question here.
When I see the silver, after all, I am seeing the nacre only. Therefore, whether it is real seeing or not, what is visible to me is the Supreme Self only. How can then one say that one man sees the Self and another does not? How can such a differentiation be reasonable?
Swami Ji: Let us say that a person had a problem in his vision. When he looked up in the sky at night, he saw multiple moons. He feels very elated and specially blessed to be able to see many moons. He calls his friend in excitement and tells him that he saw several moons in the sky. His friend checks up and denies the existence of multiple moons. Neither of those two friends are aware of the problem of the defective vision. They get into an argument and, say, they approach you to resolve their dispute. What will be your answer?
Interlocutor: What you say, Swami Ji, is true. The vision of the first man is not correct vision at all. Even though his eye is seeing, it is as good as not seeing. He is unable to assess the true position that there is only one moon. That is the reason why Lord Krishna says in this verse that only the true seer is able to see the Supreme Self and not others.
Swami Ji: That is correct. Seeing the multiplicity is not seeing the Truth. The Truth is covered up and remains invisible to the eye.
The muNDaka upanishad also tells us:
यत्तदद्रेश्यमग्राह्यमगोत्रमवर्णमचक्षुःश्रोत्रं तदपाणिपादम् ।
नित्यं विभुं सर्वगतं सुसूक्ष्मं तदव्ययं यद्भूतयोनिं परिपश्यन्ति धीराः ॥ — 1.1.6, muNDaka.
Meaning: That [brahman] which is unperceivable, ungraspable, unborn and formless, devoid of senses or organs – that which is eternal yet of manifold expressions, all-pervading, extremely subtle and undecaying, the source of all creation – the wise behold everywhere.
While commenting on this mantra, Shankara pens a memorable sentence. He says: “The word by itself illuminates what the Self is and the mind has to abide as That to the exclusion of all other thoughts. Nothing further needs to be done after that. In that understanding, mind becomes a mere witness. All That-IS is witnessed as the Self only.” It is the same thing that the prashna Upanishad indicated when it talked about having the “spherical vision.”